What is protein?
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Protein is a macronutrient that builds and maintains body tissue. Protein is one of three macronutrients found in food, the others being carbohydrate and fat.
Protein, carbohydrate and fat are all required in large amounts and are essential to the body.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. The human body requires twenty two of these amino acids and while thirteen of these amino acids can be made in the body, the other nine (essential amino acids) have to be supplied in our diet.All foods contain varying amounts and combinations of amino acids. Animal foods like meat, dairy and eggs generally contain all of the nine essential amino acids and are referred to as ‘complete proteins’.
Plant foods on the other hand, like grains, nuts and beans, may contain plenty of some amino acids, but none of others. They are referred to as ‘incomplete proteins’ and generally need to be combined to create a complete amino acid profile.
What does protein do?
To put it simply, protein builds bodies. Protein is used in the body to build, repair and maintain tissue.
Protein needs are increased in the certain segments of the population including:
- Infants & children
- Pregnant women
- People healing from injuries or surgery
- Active people who are breaking down muscle during exercise
How much protein do I need to eat each day?
The amount of protein we need depends on the size of our body, what sort of exercise we do and how much.
The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight each day. However those who do a lot of exercise may need more.
Recommendations for athletes vary from 1.2 grams per kilo of bodyweight for endurance athletes, to 1.7 grams per kilogram for strength training athletes and even up to 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight in some cases.
What are the best sources of protein?
The good news is that there are many great sources of protein that you can include in your diet. Even vegetarians have plenty of options available to them. Some of the best protein sources include:
- Red Meats such as Beef, Lamb, Goat & Venison
- Chicken & other poultry
- Protein bars such as Carb-killa-bars
- Cricket powder
- Dairy products
- Tofu & Tempeh
Too much protein can cause stress on organs such as the kidneys and liver, and because this excess will likely contribute to excess calories, it is also likely to cause weight gain. It is always important to eat a balanced diet, with optimal amounts of all macronutrients for good health.